This is the comprehensive guide to curry leaves. Learn how to use this leaf in Indian cooking, where to source it, and how to grow it!
What is it?
Curry leaves are bright green leaves that are used in South Indian cooking. The Tamil word for them is kariveppilai and the Hindi word is kadipatta. They have a very distinct smell and taste that is citrusy, peppery, and herbal. However, this description pales in comparison to the actual taste of this ingredient.
Where to buy it?
Curry leaves are typically sold in Indian supermarkets but sometimes can be found in Asian supermarkets. They are sold and stored with other vegetables in the refrigerated section. If you don't see it at the Indian store, ask the store clerk as they may be stored behind the counter. In addition, Diaspora Co. sells curry leaf plants and ships them nationwide from a California South Asian farmer when they are matured! You can learn more about taking care of curry leaf plants down below. Additionally, you can now buy curry leaves online on Amazon; however, the quality can vary.
How to store curry leaves
It is best to wrap fresh curry leaves in a paper towel in an airtight container or bag. The paper towel prevents excess moisture which helps the curry leaves last longer. You can alternatively air dry the curry leaves in the sun until they are completely dry and store them in the pantry in whole or powdered form. However, the fresh curry leaves are far superior in flavor to the dry version. You will know if the curry leaves are bad if they turn a dark green or start to become soft. If there are only 1-2 leaves like this, remove them from the bag to help preserve the other curry leaves.
Substitutes for curry leaves
Unfortunately, there is no real substitute for this ingredient. If a recipe calls for this ingredient you should really buy it to add the depth of flavor to the dish. However, in a pinch, you can simply omit the ingredient or increase another aromatic called for in the recipe like ginger or garlic.
Curry leaves vs. curry powder
Curry leaves are completely different from curry powder and one is not a substitute for the other. Curry leaves are used to infuse oils and impart their own distinctive taste whereas curry powders tend to be a spice blend containing a mix of turmeric, coriander, cumin, and chili powder.
How to use curry leaves in Indian cooking?
Curry leaves should be stripped from the stem, added into hot oil, and sautéed to infuse their flavor into the oil. This can be done at the start of making a dish to build flavor or can be crisped into a finishing oil, often called tadka/thalipu, which added on top of a dish!
Don't be alarmed if the curry leaves sputter or pop vigorously in the oil when added. Fresh leaves have water which causes the curry leaves to sputter in the oil. If the popping is too vigorous, simply turn off the heat and allow the popping to stop before proceeding.
Recipes that use curry leaves
Here are some recipes that showcase curry leaves.
Tips on growing your own curry leaf plant
Curry leaf plants are usually passed down from one person to the next in the Indian community. However, Diaspora Co partners with Kula Nursery to sell and ship curry leaf plants every year around the United States. Here are some beginner tips I've learned from growing my curry leaf plants, but even more in-depth resources from Kula Nursery can be found here.
- Curry leaf plants thrive in warm weather. Put your curry leaf plants out during the summer and bring them back into the house when the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Do not over-water curry leaf plants. The biggest mistake is to over-water curry leaf plants, which causes root rot. Only water the curry leaves when the top 1 inch of the soil is dry!
- Feed curry leaf plants rice water. Whenever I wash my rice, I save the initial starchy water and feed it to the curry leaf plants for extra nutrients.
- Fertilize every 2 weeks in the summer.
- Never cut off more than ⅓ of the curry leaves off the plant. This so the plant can continue to photosynthesize from the green leaves.
Please leave a comment below letting me know what you thought of this article and if it was helpful to you! I always love hearing your questions and your comments 🙂